7 Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Changes To Make Today

Whether you’re a full-time eco-warrior or just learning about sustainability, there are many modifications you can make to your lifestyle to support a healthy planet. Here are seven cheap and easy changes you can make starting today.

1. Drive greener

The average American driver spends roughly 17,600 minutes behind the wheel each year, according to AAA. And each minute, traditional vehicles release pollutants that can spell trouble both for your health and the environment. “Pollutants released by vehicles greatly increase air pollution levels and have been linked to adverse health effects, including premature mortality, cardiac symptoms, exacerbation of asthma symptoms, and diminished lung function,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So if you burn fuel every day, it’s time to re-evaluate your commute. Look for alternatives, such as walking, biking, carpooling and public transportation. Find out whether you can telecommute to work or shift your hours to avoid sitting in heavy traffic. And try to run errands when traffic is light. The gas money you’ll save is just an added bonus to breathing cleaner air.

2. Create a meal plan

A man looks at his grocery list while in the produce aisle.

Are you guilty of buying more food than you can finish before it goes bad? You’re definitely not alone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 22 percent of discarded solid municipal waste is food. That’s a serious waste problem, especially given the environmental impact of food production.

But with a bit of effort, you can dramatically cut your food waste. Simply plan your meals, write out a shopping list and stick to it. You don’t have to cut out impulse buys completely — though you should avoid shopping on an empty stomach — but if you do purchase something unexpected, be sure to adjust your meal plan so nothing spoils. And try to share or donate any excess food before it ends up in a landfill.

3. Learn what goes into your food

On the topic of food, you also should know what you’re buying. Food production often involves the use of chemical fertilizers, burning fossil fuels for transportation, inhumane treatment of animals, harm to wildlife and more. So as a consumer, it’s up to you to make responsible choices.

Buy local, organic and humanely raised food whenever possible. Look for “fair trade” on the label for goods that promote better standards for the producers and the environment. And refuse to support restaurants and other establishments that don’t make these environmentally conscious choices.

4. Cut plastic waste

Plastic waste is a massive problem for our planet. It’s polluting oceans, killing wildlife and making us sick. Still, it’s unfortunately difficult to entirely avoid plastic in everyday life, but we can be more responsible about our use of it.

“You can start cutting down on your plastic waste in a few simple steps: use reusable bags when you shop, ditch single-use water bottles, bags, and straws and avoid products made from or packaged in plastic whenever possible,” the Center for Biological Diversity recommends. Consider buying items used instead of new to avoid plastic packaging. Shop local, and cut down on online purchases, which often come wrapped in plastic. And, of course, recycle everything you can. Saying no to that straw won’t clean an entire ocean, but it might save one sea animal’s life.

5. Switch to natural cleaners

Ingredients for a natural cleaner, including lemons and vinegar

Chemical cleaning products might make your home smell “meadow fresh” — whatever that means — but at a huge cost to actual meadows and your health. “Store-bought cleaners typically contain dangerous chemicals, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and are packaged in petroleum-based products,” according to Ohio University’s Office of Sustainability.

Luckily, you can find eco-friendly cleaning products at most retailers, and you can easily make your own. Most clean and disinfect just as well as the chemicals, and you don’t have to be afraid to breathe while you knock out your chore list.

6. Question your purchases

You might buy something based on impulse, hours of research and everything in between. Hopefully, you at least pause to think about the impact of your purchase. “Every product we purchase has an environmental footprint, from the materials used to create it to the pollution emitted during manufacturing to the packaging that ends up in landfills,” the Center for Biological Diversity says.

So first ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” If the answer is yes, as it often is, then look for items that have a smaller environmental impact. Upgrade to energy-efficient appliances or a fuel-efficient vehicle. Purchase furniture made from sustainable materials, such as bamboo — or better yet, buy it secondhand. Basically, if you’re already putting in research before buying an item, don’t forget to consider the environment as a factor.

7. Time your showers

shower head with drops of water falling down

There’s plenty you can do to make your home more eco-friendly — and much of it adds up to cost savings and better health for you, too. Upgrade your home’s insulation, and seal any air leaks to save on heating and cooling. Switch to energy-saving light bulbs and low-flow faucets. And grow low-maintenance, native plants in your garden.

If you’re a new eco-warrior, all those green options can be dizzying. So here’s a good place to start: Time your showers. To save water, you first have to realize how much you use. Try to beat your time each day by a minute, and ultimately you’ll learn only to use the water you need to get the job done. Then, let this victory in sustainability inspire you to branch out and live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Main image credit: Sasiistock/Thinkstock

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